I take a deep breath, tell myself they’re just roasted marshmallows, and quickly put the stick in my mouth. “Ahhh…Just like I remember them,” I pronounce with a pursed grin. With the video camera now turned off and my wife and kids grimacing in disgust, I’m tempted to spit out whatever remains of the half dozen fried scorpions I’ve just eaten. But I manage to get them down without gagging anyway.
For the citizens of Beijing who stroll the Donghuamen Night Market, seeing tourists make a fuss about their local delicacies is probably a strange but familiar sight. After all, the Chinese take great pleasure in exotic foods — snake, fish eyes, sea horses, and a wide assortment of other creatures I didn’t even realize could be eaten. But for me, this culinary adventure reminded me that when we travel with our kids, we shouldn’t have to go to such extremes to get them to try new foods.
Whenever we prepare for a trip, whether it’s around the country or around the globe, packing the proper clothes and accessories for the children is an essential part of making our time together enjoyable. We also encourage our kids to bring along a healthy appetite (which isn’t hard to do for two growing boys). After all, eating out as a family shouldn’t be viewed as a necessary evil, but an opportunity to enrich our vacation by forging a deeper connection with the places we’re visiting.
In Kyoto, for instance, a traditional multi-course Kaiseki dinner offered us a rare opportunity to partake in a uniquely Japanese experience dating back to the 1500s. Kaiseki consists of a sequence of small, artfully presented dishes that keeps the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of the food in balance. The boys tried most of what was set in front of them, including a colorful array of raw seafood, and were fascinated by the whole presentation. It was also pretty special to be served by a woman dressed in kimono, all while seated on a tatami floor wearing yukata robes of our own.
Eating ethnic cuisine in the country where it originated can motivate kids to enjoy foods they normally might not even want to try. In Greece, our family had the unexpected pleasure of spending an afternoon dining on freshly grilled fish and bread served straight from an outdoor stone oven with another family we met while asking for directions. The kids worked up strong appetites horsing around while us parents enjoyed some local wine from the very island of Skaithos we were on. All of this is not only possible, but part of everyday life in Greece, where daily visits to the food market are not a chore, but a pleasurable routine.
And not surprisingly, there are places where our children actually want to eat as much as possible. Take Italy for example. No one would dispute the fact that Florence, Rome and Naples have impressive tourist attractions that kids would enjoy. But at the end of the day, isn’t it the fresh pastas, oven-baked pizzas, and sweet gelato that really pique a child’s interest?
But it’s not always the taste of the food that matters; it’s the setting, the circumstances, and the people we’re with that make certain meals special. Whether we’re dining in an African boma beneath a brilliant night sky or sitting in the upper deck of Yankee Stadium eating a hotdog and Cracker Jacks, each experience is equally memorable because it’s shared with the people we love.
Follow Rainer on Twitter at @JenssTravel